Recipes are just suggestions (writing, blogging, sourdough)

I’ve been struggling to find a writing recipe for getting through the intolerable middle of writing my novel, as I discussed in March.  Now I think my inability to find a step-by-step guide out of the morass is a symptom of my personality that applies to more things than writing.

I realized this a couple of weeks ago when I blew up my web site by changing WordPress themes.

Little ChefI had decided it was time for an update of the site where I’ve hosted my blog for the last five years. There were three reasons for this.

  1. Visual elements are becoming ever-more important.
  2. I’m launching a new novel this year.
  3. After several years with WordPress’s 2012 theme, it felt like time for a change (as when you look at the comforter you’ve slept under for the last ten years and think, I’d really like to look at something new.)

A weekend would be a good time to muck around, I decided, so one Saturday I spent several hours previewing WordPress themes in search of one that had all the widgets and whistles I need. I settled on Affinity. Late that evening, I took a deep breath and pressed the “Apply” button.

Pause for Wayback

If I’d thought ahead, I would have taken a screen shot of what things looked like with the previous themes. I didn’t think to do that, but luckily we have the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, which shows what the blog looked like in January 2015:

Wayback2015-02

 

 

and earlier in 2016:

Wayback2016-05Back to the present

All seemed great for a minute or two until I discovered that the sidebar into which I put so much energy over the years (containing links to recent publications, Goodreads reviews, Facebook like box, and Twitter feed) seemed to be gone. I poked around. It was nowhere to be found. I took a deep breath and resigned myself to recreating it. Then I did a little more research about what I needed and discovered that the Affinity theme had problems with some of the widgets, such as the Goodreads “recently read” list.

I banged my head on my desk and went to bed.

The next morning (Mother’s Day, as it happened), I got up bright and early and sat down with a strong cup of tea. I reviewed a few more themes, looking for one that might handle widgets better while retaining a focus on imagery. I found Harmonic. Since things couldn’t get much worse, I didn’t hesitate before applying it.

Amazingly, my disappeared sidebar full of widgets returned. Hallelujah!

I spent most of that day fixing and tweaking, and still have more polishing to do. But I once again have a functional web site, this time with a static home page and more images. I also discovered how to create a custom menu that links to an external page so my book landing page(s) can appear in my menu. Hallelujah again!

DIY or HSEDI (have someone else do it)?

If what I’ve just said sounds like gibberish, then the DIY approach probably isn’t for you. In the bad old days, I spent a lot of time in corporate settings where I worked with web design teams. This was at a time when the level of technical and design knowledge needed to produce a decent-looking web site was enormous and required experts. These days, with a bit of technical savvy and some time and effort, most professionals can do a decent job of creating their own—especially if they have some interest and willingness to experiment.

I do suggest that you devote some time (as I did) to researching and reading before diving in to creating or updating your site. While it may seem from the above description that I didn’t plan my web update, I actually did—just not in the same way an outliner does. I read a lot and digested the advice of experts. But, like the panster I am, I applied my knowledge in a gestalt kind of way. I didn’t outline my actions, just as I don’t outline my novels (and as I take recipes as suggestions rather than step-by-step guides). Yes, I’m a pantser through and through: in my novel-writing life, my marketing activities, and my cooking.

Web building resources

If you’re an author who wants to roll up your sleeves and DIY, here are some helpful sites:

Sourdough.

And here’s a recipe* that gives you a glimpse into how I cook. Needless to say, it’s not for everyone…

Audrey’s Sourdough Bread

Ingredients

  • A gob of sourdough starter
  • 2-ish cups of bread flour
  • 2-ish cups of wheat flour
  • Some salt
  • Enough water to eventually make a springy, not-too-dense dough

What to do

One day, mix some sourdough starter with some flour and water until it’s a little thicker than white glue. Cover the bowl with a towel and let it sit at room temperature overnight.

The next morning, stir in salt. I can’t tell you exactly how much. More than a teaspoon and less than a tablespoon. But you’re going to have to experiment. If it’s too salty this time, less salt next time. If not salty enough, then more. Mix in most of the flour and enough water to make a dough that you can turn out onto the counter and knead a few times. Don’t overwork it. This is a no-knead bread. Of course, do sprinkle more flour on the to keep it from sticking, but not so much that the dough gets heavy.

Rinse the bowl and grease with olive oil. Gather dough into a ball and return to the bowl. Cover and let sit again at room temp for a few hours, until nicely risen. Or stick in the fridge overnight and take out an hour before you want to bake.

Lightly oil the inside of a tall, lidded cast iron pan and heat in the oven at 500 degrees for 15-20 minutes with the lid alongside it. Carefully remove the pot, dump the dough into it in a single, swift movement, return to the oven, and cover. Turn the oven down to 425. Bake for about 20-23 minutes. Remove the lid. Bake for another 20-ish minutes until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when you rap on it with your knuckles. You can check the bottom halfway through the second 20 minutes and remove from the pan if it’s getting burnt, and finish directly on the oven rack.

*This is based on the recipe in Michael Pollen’s book, Cooked, and the first few times I tried it, I followed his (somewhat complicated) directions to the letter. But after a while I got a feel for it, which let me loosen my grip on the recipe. If you’re new to bread baking, I highly suggest you consult his book first. For one thing, it describes how to make sourdough starter, which I’ll never have to do again.

Have you created your own web site? Would you ever try baking sourdough bread? Would you need a step-by-step recipe for either or both?

 

15 thoughts on “Recipes are just suggestions (writing, blogging, sourdough)

  1. I love “HSEDI (have someone else do it)”, that made me chuckle! I’ve had the same theme since starting my blog three years ago so I will return to this post when/if I decide to update it. Thanks for providing the links and advice!

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    • Your blog looks lovely, so if it suits you, don’t rush to change the theme! On the other hand, I find it’s like wearing the same favorite sweater for years on end. At some point, I just grow tired of it. But picking/implementing a new theme is a bit more challenging than buying a new sweater :-).

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  2. Pantsers all – the only way. Even if I start with a plan it has vanished beyond recall by the close of day. You are inspiring me: my theme is so old it’s haunted. Pixels are withering and falling off; so…

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  3. We’re theme buddies! Isn’t that cute?

    I usually get the itch to change my blog theme once or twice a year. And each time I’m like…dang, what did I get myself into? It’s usually an all-day event. There are still some pages I want to fix up, but I lost interest. 😉

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    • Great minds think alike… or imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… or some other platitude. I know what you mean about losing interest. If I wanted to spend my days creating web sites, I would have become a web designer. Thanks for stopping by to comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. How frustrating to go through that. I always get nervous when I change my theme. I spent a large chunk of my last weekend making changes to my blog too. I want it to look more like a website and less like a blog. When I spend hours attending to those kinds of details, I wonder about all the things I could be doing instead of trying to figure out how to reconvene static pages, widgets, and more!

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    • I know. It’s kind of like spending time spring cleaning or repainting your house or… any number of things that are necessary but perhaps don’t seem essential. But when you go to sell your house, it sure helps if the paint isn’t peeling off! When you’re selling your book, you want your blog to be just as appealing as that freshly painted exterior!

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      • Very true. And an apt metaphor since hubs and I are also going to start getting our house ready to sell. With the oldest in high school we want to start thinking of moving on to something where no yard work or snow removal is required!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I like this theme, but had to switch from my iPad to my desktop computer to see your blog. The pop-up wouldn’t disappear on the iPad. That being said, I’m a blogging DIYer so I found what you had to say interesting. Makes me almost want to change my blog theme, but then I remember all the work involved… and that sunny skies outside are beckoning. 😉

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    • Thank you for the feedback! I am going to remove that popup. It’s supposed to have a “CLOSE” button but it doesn’t. I think that’s MailChimp’s fault but I really don’t want to alienate readers. I’m doing it right now, as a matter of fact.

      And when you decide you’re ready to change, it’s really not as much work as you’re probably fearing.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You picked a nice clean theme! I’ve tried a few over the years. I get bored and want to spruce up the joint. 🙂 Mine works for me. I figure once I get a book out there I’ll create a custom author’s site, but will link it up to my blog.
    Congrats on your book! I’m a panster too, but I find “tent-poling” critical in keeping that sagging middle from collapse.

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    • There’s nothing like a new endeavor (book!) to make you reevaluate current stuff. I love the concept of tent-poling. That’s what it feels like I’m doing in so many of my enterprises.

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      • I learned that term from James Rollins when I spoke with him about his process. At the time I was using a poster board with a few ideas for plot points, but filled in the gaps as I wrote. Worked for me. I’m tent-poling my new book right now. I started on another in the fall without a clue and learned my lesson. I abandoned it when its middle collapsed. I may blog about how I use poster board sometime. 🙂 Good luck!

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